By appearances alone, Disney Bell looks like any other American Legion baseball team in its second year. The uniform colors are crisp. Their play sometimes isn't. And in front of the dugout, a couple of older men offer instruction on every pitch.
But in the case of Bowie-based Disney Bell, these two have more to offer than the typical old-timers.
One is a former Washington Senators player, Hank Allen. The other is Ray "Railroad" Ruffing, who coached at the University of Maryland, Navy and Mount St. Mary's for 27 years.
Together with Disney Bell and Riverdale Baptist Coach Terry Terrill, who is the architect of a nationally ranked high school baseball program, they form an impressive coaching staff.
"These guys are big-time and here I am coaching with them," said Disney Bell's third assistant, Ckori Jones, a senior at Prince George's Community College and coach of last year's Riverdale Baptist Gold team, the less-heralded of the school's two squads. "I was just in the car with Railroad and he was telling me stories about Cal Ripken Sr. and Earl Weaver. Hank has played with and against some of the greatest players of all time. It's incredible. I'm really learning what baseball is all about."
So are the dozen-and-a-half 16- to 18-year-olds on the team. Disney Bell primarily is composed of members of last season's Riverdale Baptist's Gold team. They are 9-8 through Sunday, but this summer is less about records and more about fundamentals.
"Assistant coaches love to give advice," said recent Bowie graduate David Zellers, a Disney Bell pitcher. "But with these guys it's different. Their advice always helps. They're right all the time."
With more than a century of baseball experience between Allen and Ruffing and baseball bloodlines that link them to legends of the game, it's no wonder.
Allen, 58, is the older brother of seven-time all-star Dick Allen. Hank played a little over four years (1966-1970) for the Senators, who were managed for two of those seasons by Hall of Famer Ted Williams. Allen finished his career with the Milwaukee Brewers and the Chicago White Sox. He played in close to 400 games in seven major league seasons from 1966 to 1973 and compiled a lifetime batting average of .241.
Allen approached Terrill before school started last year about working with the Riverdale Baptist team to stay in touch with the game and teach it to high-school players. His involvement extended into the summer.
"This isn't about me at all," Allen said. "This is about the kids. The children are the only reason I'm doing this. I just want to be there to help them, keep them involved with the game . . . that's what it's about for me. And that's all I really want to say about it."
"I used to watch [Allen] play," Terrill said. "And there he was on the voice mail asking to help out. I didn't have to think too hard about it. . . . When you're climbing a mountain you want to hear from someone who has been to the mountaintop. Hank has been there."
Ruffing's grandson, Nick, is the Disney Bell catcher. Ruffing, a nephew of Yankee great Red Ruffing, said he is a "72-year-old going on 39." He spent 15 years as a coach at Maryland, seven at Navy and was head coach of Mount St. Mary's College from 1993 to 1997, compiling a record of 46-123-2.
Ruffing was an assistant coach at Bowie High in the 1970s and coached the Cheverly American Legion team for 12 years, winning nine Maryland state titles and taking his 1974 and '75 teams to the Legion World Series. Terrill was one of the players he coached, though it was his two brothers who got to go to the World Series.
"I'm still a little upset about that, but I don't blame Railroad." Terrill joked. "He's a competitor with a lot of experience and a genuine interest in the kids. He just dropped by one day. Asking him to help out was no stroke of genius."
So what brought these men, who have accomplished so much, to the fields of an American Legion baseball team? One reason is a love of the game that each has had as long as they could remember, as well as the desire to pass it along to another generation of baseball players.
"When you get to be our age you want to give back to the game that gave you so much," Ruffing said. "There's no better way to do that than to work with kids.
"Hank talks to them like he's their grandfather. He addresses them in terms they can understand. We're both smart enough to know that kids don't just want to be told something and obey. They want to know why they're being asked to do certain things. We try to stay on their level and teach them how to play the game properly."
Their advice is making an impact on Disney Bell's young players.
"They have explained to us that situations we don't like or don't understand happen all the time, on the field and off," said outfielder Cameron Jones, a promising senior at St. John's. "But in all situations it is inappropriate to let your emotions take control. Instead, you should control the situation and use your emotions to your advantage. It's something I won't forget."
CAPTION: Disney Bell's Hank Allen, above, once played for Ted Williams. Fellow assistant Ray Ruffing is a nephew of Yankees Hall of Famer Red Ruffing.